Written by The Burgh Blog writer Austin Tocco
The end is finally here for Mike Johnston, general manager Jim Rutherford announced this morning that the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins has been relieved as the bench boss. Johnston’s tenure as the head coach did not last long, only 110 games as a coach for this team posting a 58-37-15 record in his time. The Pittsburgh Penguins hired Wilkes-Barre Scranton head coach Mike Sullivan. We do not strive for mediocracy in this city, we want championships and deep playoff runs. Along with Mike Johnston, Gary Agnew was relieved as the assistant coach which might have come to a bit of a surprise to most. As a defensive minded coach, Agnew took control of the defensive duties of the team which was one of the only bright spots on this team. The common thought by all general managers, however, it is much easier to get rid of 2 coaches than an entire team, and this team needed some type of change to get back to the winning ways.
Jim Rutherford did not jump the gun with this decision, I strongly believe that it was the correct executive decision to relieve this coach. The Pittsburgh Penguins are struggling and the season goes much quicker than we would like it to, leaving not much time for a change to be made. “I felt it was time for a coaching change because our team has underachieved,” general manager Jim Rutherford stated. He is 100% correct with this statement, the Penguins are just over a .500 winning percentage and failing to win consecutive games since November 17th and 19th. As of now, the Penguins are tied for 8th place in the Eastern Conference with the Boston Bruins which is the last place that can make the playoffs. Rutherford wanted to make this change before the Penguins are slated for back to back games against the Bruins next week.
Many factors come into a decision like this in sports. A general manager obviously looks at performance, which Johnston proved was not up to par as of December 12th. The Penguins are currently 26th in the league when it comes to power play goals (15/96). They are also 27th in the league when it comes to scoring at 2.36 goals per game. These statistics are not the statistics Penguin fans are used to seeing. In 2013, the Penguins finished 1st in the league in power play percentage at 23.4% and finished 5th in the league in scoring at 2.96 goals per game. This just proves that the coaching style of now ex-head coach Mike Johnston was not working for this team. There must have been an internal issue that aided in the struggles of Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. The star talent is not performing to the level as expected and the locker room atmosphere must have affected this. In my opinion, you must play to your strengths as it was provided to you from the general manager. With star power from Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Sidney Crosby, scoring should be the least of their issues. As a head coach, you must adapt your game to each and every team you play, every team plays a different way based on their talents. The Los Angeles Kings for example have huge bodies that are quick and physical, the Pittsburgh Penguins still played the same type of game against them as they did against Colorado, a more skilled team. Johnston should adapt to this type of play because as we all saw Friday night, he did not. The dump and chase method will not work against every team you play, the great coaches like Joel Quenneville and Mike Babcock adapt on the fly which turns into wins.
Media first got a real taste of how Jim Rutherford felt about head coach Mike Johnston last week when Rutherford went public about how he felt regarding the teams play. Rutherford strongly believed that Johnston should be playing Daniel Sprong. Sprong (18) had been a healthy scratch for the Penguins throughout most of the season. Sprong proved himself as a spark for the bottom 6 offensive lines but Johnston saw otherwise. There is no reason to bench Sprong over the play of Sergei Plotnikov, Sergei has yet to adapt to the American style of the game, not posting a single goal through 28 games. Plotnikov has taken numerous careless penalties that lead to goals against which ultimately lead to losses. This definitely sparked the decision by Rutherford and I truly believe that this had to be done or else it would be another early exit for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As Penguin fans, we are all thinking the same thing, will an unknown Wilkes-Barre coach in Mike Sullivan lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup as Dan Bylsma accomplished. Bylsma replaced head coach Michel Therrien in the middle of the season during the 2009 campaign, then lead the team to a Stanley Cup victory over the Detroit Red Wings. We are all thinking this and this is exactly what this team needs, a breath of fresh air. As for Mike Sullivan, he served 11 season in the NHL, coached the Boston Bruins from 2003-2006 and assisted John Tortorella in Vancouver for a time. Mike Sullivan is 18-5 this year with the Baby Pens and is sure to bring that winning mentality to the NHL.
Hopefully Sullivan will be the right fit for this organization moving forward and provides a spark the star talent that we have needs. Sullivan will coach his first game against the rival Washington Capitals Monday night and then the Boston Bruins during primetime on NBCSN Wednesday night.
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